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Conservation groups watching fisheries

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The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters is keeping a close eye to make sure Section 35 of the Fisheries Act is enforced after the province announced it was turning that responsibility back to the federal government.

That section of the act deals with harmful changes to fish habitat. Mark Holmes, OFAH communications specialist, said they don’t have any problem with it going back to the feds--as long as somebody enforces the regulations.

"Without enforcement, yes, the fisheries will suffer," Holmes said Monday. "Somebody should be enforcing them."

"They’re going to have to have someone enforce them," echoed Vic Alberts, a director with the Fort Frances Sportsmen’s Club.

Though he wasn’t sure of the full implications of the move, Alberts feared if the regulations weren’t being strictly enforced, area waters could end up with development in prime spawning beds.

The province announced last week it was turning that portion of the Fisheries Act back to the federal government.

MNR spokesperson Brian Blomme explained the province has had an interim agreement with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for more than 10 years.

That agreement allowed the MNR to look over proposals for development that might alter the habitat.

For the past year, though, the ministry has been trying to negotiate a more formal agreement with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Getting no response, the province posted on the Environmental Bill of Rights registry Aug. 18 that it plans to turn enforcement back to the federal government.

That would happen after the required 30-day review period.

"For some activities that relate to fisheries protection . . . it means contacting the DFO," Blomme noted.

But until the review period is up, it’s status quo as far as the MNR is concerned. Staff will get further direction over the next month.

"These things never happen all of a sudden," Blomme stressed, adding he wasn’t aware of any staff reductions that would result from this.

"[And] we will do everything we can to make sure the transition is smooth," he pledged.

The DFO could not be reached for comment.

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